Joe Penna’s ‘Stowaway’ Leaves Viewers Wanting More

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Published May 19, 2021
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Toni Collette plays Commander Barnett in "Stowaway." Photo courtesy of Netflix

Exploring the unknown, as well as the attempt to get there, is what drives “Stowaway” into Netflix’s trending movies of 2021.

The science fiction film directed by Joe Penna has become one of Netflix’s top thrillers since its release date on April 22. Penna’s compelling plot is based on the short story “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin and just as the original tale did, “Stowaway” leaves the audience on a cliffhanger.

As just a small cast – Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Shamier Anderson and Daniel Dae Kim – the four bring the story of a crew on a mission to Mars to the screen, but walk away leaving it inconclusive.

As a fan of space movies, I was immediately drawn to watch this film with high expectations. I wouldn’t say it disappointed me, but it definitely left me wanting to know more.

The initial scene of the film is strong enough to hook an audience. It does not present some sob story, as most science fiction dramas do at the beginning to connect the audience to the characters. Instead, Penna goes straight for the good stuff and shows us what we truly want to see: the struggle of surviving under difficult circumstances in space.

Although it works at first, during the rest of the film one can’t help but wonder: why the invisible space command center? Who is that behind the headset speaking to Commander Barnett? Why is the spacecraft the only location? Are we ever going to see the faces behind their made-up families or is that Penna’s way to challenge the overplayed dynamic other space movies follow?

The plot of "Stowaway" shows the impact of an unplanned change of events that ends in a painful sacrifice. Photo courtesy of Netflix

The plot of “Stowaway” shows the impact of an unplanned change of events that ends in a painful sacrifice.
Photo courtesy of Netflix

On the other hand, one drop of blood is what turns the whole space story into a human-based one. It completely shifts the focus on the fact that they are on a giant floating ship in the emptiness of the universe, turning the spotlight to bigger issues.

It is at this point the talent of exceptional acting plays its most significant role in the movie. Anderson’s acting as Michael Adams truly puts viewers at the edge of their seats given the circumstances of the scene.

Yet, once again the plot leaves questions. How could this even happen? Does NASA truly treat spaceships as two-hour-flight planes and wing their way to space?

Eventually, it just seems to make sense to everyone else on the ship. Perhaps, that is the element of surprise needed to keep the audience’s eyes wide open during the rest of the film.

Anna Kendrick plays Crew Member Zoe Levenson. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Anna Kendrick plays crew member Zoe Levenson.
Photo courtesy of Netflix

Nonetheless, the film lacks in developing their characters, revealing few details about each one, particularly Kim’s role as David Kim. Despite knowing about his love for Jazz, there is little information on who he is, other than his rushed decision-making with the intention of putting the situation they are in to an end.

However as the plot develops, Zoe, played by Kendrick, shows behind her assertive and cheerful personality there is also a compassionate and caring persona. Michael and Zoe’s connection seems so effortless that for a moment, it even made me think there was room for romance in this movie, but yet again, Penna defers from the predictable route.

In fact, the story gave me hope and almost made me forget what an unplanned crew of four members means in a two-year trip to Mars. It all seems to work out for a little bit until reality strikes and tension rises between them.

Daniel Dae Kim plays David Kim (left) and Shamier Anderson plays Michael Adams (right). Photo courtesy of Netflix

Daniel Dae Kim plays David Kim (left) and Shamier Anderson plays Michael Adams (right).
Photo courtesy of Netflix

Each character represents a possible response to what such chaotic conditions provoke in people. Viewers see the hard decision-making behind the leadership of a small group of people in a confined space, the emotional response of characters under unbearable stress and the painful way in which not many will ever have to say goodbye.

Normally, I enjoy happy endings and I don’t think “Stowaway” is supposed to have one. Instead, it presents a poetic ending that will probably stick with me until the next space movie comes around.

One can only hope there is a sequel, and one that does not also end on a cliffhanger.

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